Life On The Other Side Of The Rainbow: How Food Coloring Elimination Changed Our Child’s Behavior
As a follow-up to my inaugural post Why I’m Over This Rainbow, I want to share how our family life has changed since we ditched the synthetic food coloring. Since our food coloring elimination in late July 2011, our child’s behavior has changed in several very noticeable ways. She’s doing a little better in school, she’s able to finish homework without meltdowns, she’s more logical, she sleeps more soundly, she’s able to cope with small set backs, and her handwriting has really improved. She acts more like sweet Charlie Bucket than Veruca Salt nowadays.
To get to this point, though, we had to do a lot of research and a lot of talking. I felt that my child needed to be just as educated about unhealthy food additives as her parents. Teaching children to read labels and ask lots of questions about the food they are offered is so important. Afterall, they are offered food choices outside the home starting with preschool these days. They need to be prepared to make the best choices when we’re not around to help.
“There’s no better time to learn.” – Willy Wonka
My child loves to do food investigations while we are grocery shopping. And it helps keep her busy while we’re doing a mundane task, so that’s a bonus for me. She loves to wag her finger, Colbert-style, at rows and rows of dyed drinks and snacks. She politely declines treats from friends at school, camp, and scout meetings…and enthusiastically explains to everyone within earshot that food coloring is bad for people.
She prefers to bring her own lunch to school, and she reads labels before making purchases on “ice cream Fridays”. I’ve taught her to avoid the school’s “fruit” cocktail (maraschino cherries have red dye), the bread stuffing (contains yellow dyes), the cake with rainbow sprinkles (obvious), and that mythical school vegetable – pizza. Her teacher asks parents to provide each child’s daily snacks from home, too, so that makes life easier for us.
We have a serious sweet tooth, so it would seem that this adjustment in diet would be extremely hard, especially during the holidays. Cheap dyed foods are everywhere, and they are aggressively marketed to kids on TV, at restaurants, and through social media. Luckily, we’re not as limited as Charlie and his grandparents with their cabbage soup diet.
We ask questions at restaurants and carry dye-free treat alternatives with us. We had to stop eating the free ice cream that comes with Chick-FIL-A’s kids meals because it contains yellow dyes (Sure the indoor playground can help kids run off the sugar, but the effects of food coloring last for days. Even the sugar-free lemonade causes problems). So instead, I take her to Whole Foods for dye-free gelato and slushies, find a King Of Pops vendor, or keep all natural ice cream on hand at home. Jason’s Deli is a nice treat for us with their natural salad bar (which includes gingerbread spice muffins, chocolate mousse, and banana pudding) and their dye-free soft serve chocolate ice cream. We avoid the red-dyed Indian recipes at favorite restaurants, or make tandoori chicken at home with dye-free spice packets from Whole Foods.
For treats at Halloween and the holidays, I’ve had success ordering online with Indie Candy and Natural Candy Store. We replaced M&M’s with Sun Drops and Smarties. We ditched the Oreos for sandwich cookies from Trader Joe’s, Back To Nature, and Whole Foods 365 brand. Annie’s natural fruit snacks, Surf Sweets gummies, Florida’s Natural nuggets, and Trader Joe’s fruity flakes are good alternatives to traditional gummy bears. Trader Joe’s organic lollipops are a party hit, and their snack bars are far cheaper than name brand bars in supermarkets. We replaced Gogurt tubes with the more affordable Trader Joe’s “Squishers” yogurt tubes.
Of course there are other special occasions to navigate around, such as birthday parties and holiday feasts, but shopping and researching online is making things much easier (See Traditions That Make Your Kid Blue for more information). It’s not hard to make your own food coloring from natural substances, or just order natural food coloring from Natural Candy Store or India Tree Dyes. You can ask for small samples of natural food coloring from Whole Foods bakeries, and while you’re there, pick up a few pints of their delicious gelato to accompany your kid’s birthday cake.
For some party fun, you can do a Google search of instructions for DIY finger paints, play dough, and face paints. There are more and more companies making these items from natural ingredients lately too. See To Dye For: Halloween Isn’t So Scary Without Food Coloring for specific examples.
My own food coloring sensitivity has necessitated lifestyle changes for me, as well (see more in My Rainbow Connection). No more Coke Zero for me, and it’s just as well, because it was ironically making me fatter anyways. I use organic soy or coconut milk creamer in my coffee now (creamers can have blue or yellow food coloring), and I take a pass on colorful cocktails. From now on, I imbibe with wine or dye-free beer (yes, some beers have food coloring). For something stronger, perhaps a gin and tonic (which my husband nostalgically refers to as “Christmas in a glass”). I’ve even had to rethink my personal care and cosmetic purchases.
There are occasional slip ups, which reinforce my belief that food coloring is bad for my kid…Like that one time in the early days of our dye-free adventure, when we thought it would be safe to order lemonade in a restaurant. A fun dinner turned into a loud, emotional crying episode thanks to Yellow 5 food coloring (because, you know, lemon juice is just not, lemon-y enough…). And that time when I failed to ask questions about some pudding at another favorite restaurant. So now I carry tiny packets of drink flavoring with me, such as Hanson’s berry or Trader Joes’ lemonade, and ask more questions. It’s a learning process.
But consider that an elimination diet is FREE and not as hard to do anymore – try it for just two weeks. Write down everything you or your child eat, and make notes about behavior too. Compare school behavior charts from before the test, and after. I’ve posted a sampling of good sites under my web site Resources section, but a great place to start is the Feingold Association‘s web site.
Please come back here to let everyone know how your food elimination audit went. And for those of you who have tried this elimination, please share specific ideas that worked for you, in a comment below. I would personally love to hear how you managed to help your child avoid dyed cakes at their friends’ birthday parties…
Soooo…good things await you at the end of the rainbow…just be sure to use your little pot of gold wisely – shop with your values. 😉